Role of Decentralization,
Delegation and De-concentration
of Powers in
PUBLIC SERVICE DELIVERY
Power is distributed among different organs of a state in a manner that no organ may intervene in the exercise of power by the other – a hallmark of modern democracy. The executive is responsible to facilitate and provide amenities of life to the masses and also make requisite arrangements so that the people may lead a peaceful life. The government enjoys the sole power to regulate social and economic spheres of life in the light of a social contract for which it is also held accountable by the people in a systematic way. A common man comes across a variety of problems in his daily life for which he needs assistance and quick disposal of the issues at hand. For ensuring this all in a convenient way, the executive has to play a proactive role and it is expected to have a futuristic approach in tackling the problems and devising various mechanisms for that.
In running the affairs of different government departments and organizations, the powers are decentralized and distributed for the purpose of functionality. In other words, it can be said that it is the delegation of certain functions on the basis of mandate given to different organizations. Even then, for the purpose of functionality, the departments may further decentralize by delegating the functions and powers as well.
Therefore, delegation, decentralization and de-concentration of powers are the best options to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in running the affairs of different departments providing service to the people. Delegation means entrusting one’s administrative authority to another – invariably a subordinate – so as to facilitate quick disposal of work by the organization. The official whom power is delegated is held accountable by the official who delegates those. Such delegation is not final in its nature; it can be revoked, amended, enhanced and reduced by the authority who delegated the powers. It is also the responsibility of the official delegating powers to ensure that the delegated powers are not used in an arbitrary manner or as a discretion. For this purpose, foolproof mechanism, robust procedures and effective processes are devised whereby disposal is ensured swiftly without following lengthy, time-consuming and cumbersome procedures.
The authority delegating powers should play a supervisory role so as to monitor the delegated powers with an inbuilt mechanism of accountability. As it is not possible to inspect all transactions by the authority however, so selected cases, areas are taken into consideration for a countercheck by the authority.
Over-delegation of powers may lead to concentration of powers which is against the spirit of delegation and may also lead to misuse of delegated powers – a common phenomenon in public organizations. Similarly, powers delegated in a haphazard way are likely to lead to corrupt practices. Therefore, de-concentration of powers is as important in an organization as is decentralization and delegations of powers itself. Equally important to keep in mind is that all this is done in a systematic way, i.e. by taking into account principles of administrative justice and all implications related thereto.
What has been observed and witnessed in many organizations is that there is a dire need of functional decentralization as the functions in various organizations are overlapping in nature; even within organizations, there is a functional overlapping leading to wastage of time and improper use of human resource. No organization can achieve its objectives without directing all its efforts in a coordinated way with the support of each section to complement the other. Non-revision of delegated powers over the years has led to concentration of powers which, in turn, has affected the efficiency of the organizations. There is a need to review all delegated powers with the focus on decentralization and de-concentration at the same time if we want to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our public service delivery mechanism.
In today’s world of information technology, digitalisation offers an opportunity to be cashed in on by the government departments in Pakistan for improving public service delivery in the country. Digital technologies and environment offer new avenues for identifying needs and delivering public services, which can contribute to wider welfare goals such as quality, accessibility, efficiency and equity. Many digitally advanced governments such as that of Austria have stepped up access to public services via mobile phones. According to the Oxford Policy Management blog, digital technologies can offer direct and indirect benefits. Direct benefits encompass improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public service delivery by lowering costs of delivering public services. Moreover, they can also be efficient in terms of improving the quality of delivery; for example, in the case of using tele-medicine. Tele-medicine services can also give a boost to female labour force participation in Pakistan. Female doctors, who form almost 60-70% of the student body in medical colleges but less than 30% as practicing doctors, can especially benefit from this. Digital technologies can also indirectly benefit public service delivery through strengthening feedback flows from users to service-providers. Government authorities can use this feedback to improve service delivery. Focusing on health, countries are experimenting with a variety of applications aiming to improve service delivery ranging from vaccination schemes to improvements in disease tracking and pandemic alerts. A good example in this regard is the District Delivery Challenge Fund (part of a large sub-national governance programme) implemented in Pakistan that aims to improve health service delivery in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. A key feature of this programme is that it links local basic health units with specialists in district hospitals. Digitalisation can also improve public service delivery in other sectors of the economy. A blog by the Brookings Institution, published in 2018, shows that digitisation serves as a platform for African economies to improve financial development.